Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Italian Hunter's Chicken

As previously noted, I have a deep rooted, possibly unbalanced devotion to all things Italian and food is certainly no exception. Maybe that explains my obsession with the Food Network’s Giada De Laurentiis. I don’t necessarily think everything she makes is spectacular (ok, maybe I do) but her bobble-esque head, tiny frame, sometimes overly done makeup…none of it actually bothers me. In fact, I think she is adorable, her pronunciation of pasta and all. So I do tend to gravitate towards a lot of her recipes. Having said that, in true A Girl and Her Kitchen fashion, I always ‘adjust’ them to make it my own.

One of my favorite go-to recipes for easy weeknight meals or even unexpected guests for dinner is Giada’s Chicken Cacciatore. The earthy spices, bright colors and homey flavors seem to just dance in this dish and when served over a big pile of whole wheat pasta, it is always without fail a major hit in my house. There are a ton of recipes out there for this classic Italian meal, but I honestly, putting my regard for Giada aside (yes, we are in fact on a first name basis), think this recipe tops all. And my additions and edits aren’t too shabby either.

In fact, this is a good time to make a major culinary secret of mine (and I am sure others) known and that my friend, is the Parmesan rind. Now I buy actual hunks of parmesan cheese (it is one of the kitchen luxuries I afford myself, though if we buy a house, husband says my Parmesan budget is going to have to get smaller :( .)  I don't want it pregrated by my cheese guy and I definitely never, ever buy the prepackaged (god forbid) stuff that comes from people like Kraft. I like to grate the good stuff myself when I need it, fresh. And the rind is totally crucial here. Once I’ve used up the hunk of cheese I cut the rind into big 1 inch chunks, throw them in a freezer safe bag and keep them frozen for when I need them. And I use them in everything from Chicken Cacciatore to homemade chicken soup to my pasta sauces. No need to defrost, just plop them right into whatever you are cooking. They will largely melt and infuse your food with a background of parmesan goodness.

Now Chicken Cacciatore literally means ‘hunter’s chicken’ so it is supposed to be rustic folks. When you are chopping your veggies for this one, don’t stress about size or perfection. Just chop those suckers up and toss them on in!

Chicken Cacciatore
(Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis)

• 4 chicken thighs and 2 chicken breasts with skin and backbone, halved crosswise (or substitute with 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or any combination there of. Use what you like.)
• 2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
• 1/2 cup all purpose flour, for dredging chicken in
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 3-4 large red and orange bell peppers, chopped (may include yellow as well, whatever you like)
• 1 onion, chopped
• 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 1 cup dry white wine
• 1 ( 28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice (fire roasted diced tomatoes will add another layer of flavor if used)
• 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
• 1 nugget of parmesan rind
• 4 tablespoons drained capers (or more to taste)
• 2-3 teaspoons dried oregano leaves (or more to taste)
• 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional)
• 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves

If using boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut each in half. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon of each salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat lightly.

In a large heavy sauté pan (such as, Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round French Oven, Red)heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and sauté just until brown, about 5 minutes per side. If all the chicken does not fit in the pan, sauté it in 2 batches. Transfer the chicken to a bowl or plate and set aside.
Add the bell pepper, onion and garlic to the same pan and sauté over medium heat until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the oregano and red pepper flakes.
Add the wine and parmesan rind and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, be sure to scrape up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. There is a lot of flavor in there.
Add the tomatoes with their juice, broth and capers. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and turn them to coat in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Continue simmering over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through, about 30 minutes for the breast pieces, and 20 minutes for the thighs. (Cooking time based on bone-in meat. If boneless, will take less time. Maybe 20 minutes for breast pieces.)
Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a platter. If necessary, boil the sauce until it thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Spoon off any excess fat from atop the sauce. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, then sprinkle with the basil and serve with rice or pasta.

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